Is it just me, or has the average man’s taste in fashion on the street become more spirited, expressive and inspired lately? Perhaps it’s a response to the suffocation and sensory deprivation of the pandemic. Perhaps there is a collective realization that life is too short for the sober self-anonymization of the normcore.
There has been a shift in men’s shirts in particular – an embrace of the valuable quality of the upper body as a personal canvas or billboard, promoting one’s personality, one’s passions and even promoting a worldview.
To take a closer look at this sartorial development, forbes collected the insights of founders and representatives of the brands that produce creative clothing for male creators and their relatives: The Phoenix Brand, Descendant of Thieves and Tombolo.
The Phoenix brand
For the residents of Greenwich Village
Trina Assur, Co-Founder: “The Phoenix brand is a leading global retail platform dedicated to democratizing consumer access to ethical and sustainable clothing. In contrast to traditional clothing design, we draw on the cultural influence of emerging musicians and artists to create fashion collections with history that use plant-based, biodegradable and recycled materials. Our mission is to provide solutions not only for a better planet, but for better physical and financial health for consumers and factory workers, while restoring the meaning and intent behind the clothes we wear.”
Gabrielle Gomes, Co-Founder: “Our journey didn’t start with a passion for clothing. Rather, it began with a deep connection to health. Our life experiences and teachings led us to realize that our health is no longer entirely under our control, but is heavily influenced by the ecological ecosystem in which we live.
We started The Phoenix Brand with the tailwind of other industries doing their part. We had seen an overhaul in the food industry, with grocery stores stocking organic products and the beauty industry, with a massive push towards natural inputs and zero toxins. When this happened we knew that the textile industry needed to be given the same attention. From our years of experience in both luxury fashion and home furnishings, we knew that the apparel industry — especially amid the rise of fast fashion — was becoming far too dependent on the use of plastic and toxic chemicals to make clothes. This dependency has had and continues to have devastating effects on the health of our planet, the people and the workers who make the clothes.
With this understanding and after countless hours of research, we have found ways to bring our ideas to life and share our version of sustainability in apparel – clothes made from plant-based, upcycled, toxin-free materials.
The phoenix is an immortal bird that regenerates cyclically. The Phoenix brand is built on the premise of using materials that can be recycled or replanted and “reborn,” stronger than before.”
Trina Assur: “As a writer and illustrator, Eunsan Huh explores the visual expression of the Korean language and the influence of images on language learning and the personal development of the speaker. Her curiosity about the world and her enlightened way of speaking was something that really impressed us. From the moment we met her we knew we wanted to work with her.”
Gabrielle Gomes: “Amber Vittoria is an artist working in New York City. Her work draws on her relationship to femininity, fear and societal expectations. Augie Bello is a New York-born and raised multi-instrumentalist, singer, producer and songwriter. His collection focuses on the history of the role NYC played in his journey. He brings art and innovation to every aspect of his life and this collaboration was no different.”
descendant of thieves
For fashionable A-listers and smooth criminals
Matteo Maniatty, Founder and Creative Director: “Love your neighbors, but dammit, don’t dress like them. We encourage people to be individuals. To color outside the lines. To align our business with this, we make all garments in small batches rather than mass production. It is much more difficult and expensive to make 150 pieces of a style, but it offers something unique to the customer. It gives them the power of differentiation and a sense of belonging to a niche club of misfits.
To take it a step further, all of our products are single editions. We do not repeat designs. To meet demand, we manufacture a significant number of styles and release new items every Friday at 12pm, what we call “Fresh Friday”. We understand that Descendant of Thieves isn’t for everyone, but trying to appeal to the world only dilutes things and ends up appealing to no one.
We almost created the brand by accident. Our co-founder Dres only wore clothes he made himself so he “never wore the same as everyone else”. The designs were unlike anything else on the market so we put together a collection of 15 styles. Through connections we landed a meeting with a buyer from a reputable retailer. The aim was to receive advice and directional feedback. We didn’t have the infrastructure to manufacture the product. Due to manufacturing delays, the samples looked unfinished as they did not have our branded tags attached. We were lucky, stayed the night at the hotel and hand sewed them minutes before the meeting. At the beginning of the meeting, we asked about their business and price advantages. When we introduced our product, we listed a price just below their sweet spot, although we had no idea how much it would cost to produce. They selected 12 models to purchase and asked for model numbers, which we had to put together on site.
We were so excited but had to quickly find a manufacturer that could deliver in less than five months or we risked losing the account. When we found a manufacturer, we didn’t meet their minimum requirements, so we sent buyers ransom notes made up of letters we cut out and pasted onto stationery. It was a little dark but it worked.
Rather than investing our money, we leveraged orders from major retailers, which validated our brand and allowed us to negotiate a deal with the manufacturer to put the money up for a profit-sharing deal. We did this without offering equity. We started the brand with almost zero own costs.
We make reversible shorts that are not only ideal for light travel, but also pair with printed shirts and t-shirts. One side of the shorts is printed and the other side is solid color. The printed side matches a printed short sleeve shirt and/or t-shirt. If you’re not ready for a full set – which admittedly can be a crowd – the fixed side of the shorts are wonderful to wear with the same tops. We love providing functional styling options and have never been afraid to push color and print.
Street Gang is a key piece. The artwork is a bold patchwork mix of geoprints that plays with unexpected color palettes. Another is the solid color Broken-AC floral print, which has a more sophisticated feel. The artwork is a hand painted floral design that we later scanned and printed onto a silk cotton shirt fabric. We also did this print in shorts to match.
[Descendant of Thieves’ Mulberry Street location has its own colorful history.]
For prospective long-term vacationers
Mike Sard, Co-Founder: “Our clothing is about taking the wearer to a sunnier time, place or mood. We use the term “escapewear” to encapsulate that sense of fantasy, nostalgia, and vacation escape—even if you don’t leave the couch!
If a garment has a particular technical function, then perhaps it’s something that would have been cutting edge in 1973 rather than anything sleek or futuristic. Check out our new Stowaway shorts, for example, which feature a series of whimsical pockets and a seductively cropped inseam; the pinnacle of 1970s bag storage innovation! We design our clothes for everyone, generally unisex with a wide range of sizes.”
Chris Galasso, Co-Founder: “Tombolo really started in our youth when we both developed an unwavering fascination with the Hawaiian shirt. For us, a Hawaiian shirt was that incredible canvas for self-expression, but the shirts available at the time were often derivative and uninspired—or vintage shirts that were hard to find and ill-fitting. Even when we started working in very different industries, we kept coming back to this dream of restoring the Hawaiian shirt to its former glory. Eventually we took the plunge, and it wasn’t long before the vision for Tombolo expanded into what we called cabana shirts: shirts with designs that often have embroidered motifs that tell a story and some nostalgic touches.
Sometimes it’s easier to show than tell: The very first cabana shirt was The Angler – it’s an organic cotton terry shirt with a half zip and two pockets, one of which has an embroidered fish bulging out, as well as an embroidered fish on a hook over the shoulder. Our first run of The Angler was tiny considering how new and unusual a piece of clothing was – maybe a few dozen pieces – that we were displaying in a pop-up shop we had at the time. When we saw the enthusiastic response from customers, we knew we were on to something very exciting.”
Mike Sard: “Our Fault One Tennis Cabana Set offers a playful take on tennis apparel. Crafted from our signature terry cloth, the shirt features a ‘tennis net’ pocket that runs the length of the front and a chenille ‘raffle’ tennis ball patch depicting the missed first serve. An embroidered tennis player stands at the baseline hoping for a second serve in the air to clear the net. Another new item we’re really loving is our Monkey Business shirt, which comes in Tencel in two colourways. Tencel is one of our favorite fabrics as it is airy, drapey and eco-friendly with simple care instructions. The shirt features an embroidered monkey catching coconuts that fall from a tree. If you look closely, the ‘coconuts’ are actually the coconut buttons that fall down the placket one by one.”